Rewilding on the Fleurieu Peninsula - National Tree Day Blog

Rewilding on the Fleurieu Peninsula

A small group of dedicated volunteers are returning a former pastoral property on the Fleurieu Peninsula to its pre-agricultural glory to demonstrate the possibilities of rewilding in the area.  

The Fleurieu Peninsula is a diverse region 40 minutes south of Adelaide bordered by Gulf St Vincent, the Southern Ocean and Lake Alexandrina. Traditionally home to the Ngarrindjeri, Kaurna and Peramangk people, the peninsula covers approximately 6,700 square kilometres of land and sea. But today, it’s home to only 130,000 people.

A Mediterranean climate of cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers made the region popular for settlement, farming, tourism and recreation. But converting the land for wheat growing and pasture for cows and sheep came at a cost. It’s estimated that over 90 per cent of mature native vegetation cover and 99 per cent of native grass cover has been lost, leaving only a small number of remnant native vegetation patches in the region. 

Enter the Forktree Project, a registered charity with the goal of returning a 133-acre pastoral property on the Fleurieu Peninsula to its pre-agricultural glory. The group hopes to use this small land holding to demonstrate the possibilities of rewilding in the area.  

“Historically, the Fleurieu region is a wonderful peninsula with great rainfall and good soil. And it was a very, very culturally important part of South Australia for Aboriginal people,” Tim Jarvis AM told Planet Ark. Tim is the Order of Australia member, environmental scientist, author and filmmaker who heads up the Forktree Project. 

“The region that they knew for tens of thousands of years would now be largely unrecognisable to a Ngarrindjeri person from 100 years ago; because, of course, it was changed into pasture for cows, sheep and wheat growing for the most part.” 

With a vision to turn back time in the Fleurieu region, Tim and Forktree Project co-founder Elizabeth Blumer purchased a former farming property in April 2019. The land was denuded by wholesale tree clearance, pastoral activity and, more recently, being used as a dumping ground for building waste. With the support of volunteers and corporate organisations, they set out to re-establish native trees and shrubs on the property to achieve the following key goals: 

  1. Provide habitat for native species and help combat climate change through rewilding the land. 

  2. Trial and showcase sustainable practices to encourage others to follow suit. 

  3. Establish a seed nursery and rare seed orchard to grow native plants and trees and provide a security population for endemic rare species in the wild. 

  4. Be an educational resource to schools and landowners to encourage both sustainability and small-scale land regeneration. 

“The Forktree Project was about trying to put native vegetation and habitat back into a region that desperately needs it. If you can put vegetation in near existing remnant patches of native vegetation, you can start to reduce habitat fragmentation,” Tim explains. 

“I think habitat is incredibly important because Australia has the highest rate of native species loss in the OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development] and we need to reverse this for biodiversity reasons. But we also have this very real need to take down 200 years of excess CO2 from the atmosphere as fast as possible. And that’s really all about habitat restoration.” 

Before that habitat restoration could begin, however, Tim and Elizabeth first had to identify the vegetation needed in the area and the tools required to plant it. They also built a shed to house equipment, installed rainwater tanks to provide water on site, and rounded up volunteers to help them plant and repurpose or recycle the building waste they’d inherited.  

This work meant it was three months before the project could start putting plants in the ground. And ongoing recycling and reuse of building rubble continues. 

The project has since grown greatly in complexity. Jobs undertaken include installing solar panels to provide power to the site; setting up an intelligent irrigation system to provide the nursery and seed orchard with optimal amounts of water; building an on-site seed nursery; crafting nesting boxes out of fallen logs; and repurposing building materials into retaining walls and tracks across the property.  

When the site of the Forktree Project was purchased, an audit of the existing trees was undertaken. On the entire property there were a mere 22 pink gums, a short windbreak of a dozen blue gums and sheoaks, a copse of radiata pines and a solitary, 250-year-old Rottnest teatree. 

Since then, well over 18,000 native trees, shrubs and grasses have been planted around the property with the help of volunteers from schools, the University of Adelaide, the Biology Society of South Australia, the Fleurieu Planters Group and others. The result? A landscape slowly but surely returning to its former state, along with the wildlife a healthy ecosystem can bring. 

In 2023, a grant from Planet Ark’s Seedling Bank will support the planting of a further 3,000 trees and shrubs, which will grow into critical overstorey and understorey to support local biodiversity. 

“It will take all of us to combat these twin issues of biodiversity loss and climate change, but we can do it, you know, we really can do it. There’s so much goodwill out there and so much, frankly, available land to be rehabilitated, it’s about encouraging that behaviour,” Tim said regarding his outlook for the future. 

“We believe passionately that engagement in rewilding activities is empowering for individuals and communities, leading to deeper awareness of environmental issues, improved stewardship of our natural resources and surroundings, and increased engagement in other sustainable action.” 

This story is part of this year's Tree Talk: Stories from Planet Ark's Seedling Bank.

Liam Taylor

Prior to joining Planet Ark Liam spent his time studying global environmental issues, travelling Southeast Asia on the cheap and working for a sustainable property management company in Bali, Indonesia. Joining the communications team at Planet Ark, he hopes to inspire positive environmental behaviour through effective and positive messaging.